News / Asia

    India's Billion-Member Biometric Database Raises Privacy Fears

    A villager goes through the process of a fingerprint scanner for the Unique Identification (UID) database system at an enrollment center at Merta district in the desert Indian state of Rajasthan, Feb. 22, 2013.
    A villager goes through the process of a fingerprint scanner for the Unique Identification (UID) database system at an enrollment center at Merta district in the desert Indian state of Rajasthan, Feb. 22, 2013.
    Reuters

    India's parliament is set to pass legislation that gives federal agencies access to the world's biggest biometric database in the interests of national security, raising fears the privacy of a billion people could be compromised.

    The move comes as the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) cracks down on student protests and pushes a Hindu nationalist agenda in state elections, steps that some say erode India's traditions of tolerance and free speech.

    It could also usher in surveillance far more intrusive than the U.S. telephone and Internet spying revealed by former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden in 2013, some privacy advocates said.

    The Aadhaar database scheme, started seven years ago, was set up to streamline payment of benefits and cut down on massive wastage and fraud, and already nearly a billion people have registered their finger prints and iris signatures.

    Now the BJP, which inherited the scheme, wants to pass new provisions including those on national security, using a loophole to bypass the opposition in parliament.

    "It has been showcased as a tool exclusively meant for disbursement of subsidies and we do not realize that it can also be used for mass surveillance," said Tathagata Satpathy, a lawmaker from the eastern state of Odisha.

    "Can the government ... assure us that this Aadhaar card and the data that will be collected under it - biometric, biological, iris scan, finger print, everything put together - will not be misused as has been done by the NSA in the U.S.?"

    Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has defended the legislation in parliament, saying Aadhaar saved the government an estimated 150 billion rupees ($2.2 billion) in the 2014-15 financial year alone.

    A finance ministry spokesman added that the government had taken steps to ensure citizens' privacy would be respected and the authority to access data was exercised only in rare cases.

    According to another government official, the new law is in fact more limited in scope than the decades-old Indian Telegraph

    Act, which permits national security agencies and tax authorities to intercept telephone conversations of individuals in the interest of public safety.

    'Police state'

    Those assurances have not satisfied political opponents and people from religious minorities, including India's sizeable Muslim community, who say the database could be used as a tool to silence them. "We are midwifing a police state," said Asaduddin Owaisi, an opposition MP.

    Raman Jit Singh Chima, global policy director at Access, an international digital rights organization, said the proposed Indian law lacked the transparency and oversight safeguards found in Europe or the United States, which last year reformed its bulk telephone surveillance program.

    He pointed to the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which must approve many surveillance requests made by intelligence agencies, and European data protection authorities as oversight mechanisms not present in the Indian proposal.

    The Indian government brought the Aadhaar legislation to the upper house of parliament on Wednesday in a bid to secure passage before lawmakers go into recess.

    To get around its lack of a majority there, the BJP is presenting it as a financial bill, which the upper chamber cannot reject. It can return it to the lower house, where the ruling party has a majority.

    In its assessment of the measure, New Delhi-based PRS Legislative Research said law enforcement agencies could use someone's Aadhaar number as a link across various datasets such as telephone and air travel records.

    That would allow them to recognize patterns of behavior and detect potential illegal activities.

    But it could also lead to harassment of individuals who are identified incorrectly as potential security threats, PRS said.

    Sunil Abraham, executive director of the Bengaluru-based Centre for Internet and Society, said Aaadhaar created a central repository of biometrics for almost every citizen of the world's most populous democracy that could be compromised.

    "Maintaining a central database is akin to getting the keys of every house in Delhi and storing them at a central police station," he said.

    "It is very easy to capture iris data of any individual with the use of next generation cameras. Imagine a situation where the police is secretly capturing the iris data of protesters and then identifying them through their biometric records."

     ($1 = 67.0500 Indian rupees)

     

    You May Like

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    City could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters

    Turkey Aims New Crackdown at Journalists, Academics, Airline Workers

    Ankara continues targeting people allegedly linked to exiled cleric, who it says led the failed military coup

    Pakistan Ready to Inaugurate Rebuilt Afghan Border Crossing

    Construction of Torkham Gate triggered deadly clashes between Pakistani and Afghan military forces

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunitiesi
    X
    VOA News
    July 25, 2016 5:09 PM
    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Calm the Waters: US Doubles Down Diplomatic Efforts in ASEAN Meetings

    The United States is redoubling diplomatic efforts and looking to upcoming regional meetings to calm the waters after an international tribunal invalidated the legal basis of Beijing's extensive claims in the South China Sea. VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching has the story.
    Video

    Video Four Brother Goats Arrive in Brooklyn on a Mission

    While it's unusual to see farm animals in cities, it's become familiar for residents of Brooklyn, New York, to see a little herd of goats. Unlike gas-powered mowing equipment, goats remove invasive weeds quietly and without adding more pollution to the air. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this is a pilot program and if it proves to be successful, the goat gardener program will be extended to other areas of New York. Faith Lapidus narrates.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora